This is it.
This is the year you will get your house in order.
You will clear the clutter.
You will get rid of debt.
Your home and your finances will get the special attention they need.
And I’ll help you along the way. This is the first week of the 21-day #NoDebtNoMess Color of Money Challenge. In a previous column, I laid out the schedule.
Week 1: Assess the Mess: Jan. 8 to Jan. 14.
Week 2: Reduce Redundancy: Jan. 15 to Jan. 21.
Week 3: Lighten Your Load: Jan. 22 to Jan. 28.
If you missed the start of the challenge, just join in at any time. From whatever date you begin, plan out 21 days to accomplish the goal of getting serious and bringing order to your life.
This week, let’s talk about “Assess the Mess.”
Get a notepad and start by walking around your house. Identify a few areas that really need decluttering. I’ve chosen my home office, a closet teeming with toys and games, my cabinet where I store plastic containers, and two junk drawers in my kitchen. That’s it. During the year, I’ll clean out more, but I’m not going to overwhelm myself at the start.
As you pick your areas, consider why you have so much stuff. Why can’t you let things go? It’s through understanding that you gain wisdom.
As for your finances, this first week you should be working on your net worth statement. I’ve updated a template for you to use. Here’s the link (wapo.st/networth) to a PDF version. List everything you own — cash in bank accounts, retirement investments, value of personal property and what you owe — credit card balances, personal loans, any retirement account loans, car notes and mortgages.
The point of this exercise is for you to get a snapshot of where you stand financially by looking at the positive part of your balance sheet (your assets) and the negative part (your liabilities).
The goal is to have a positive net worth, meaning you own more than you owe. You may discover you aren’t in as bad shape financially as you thought. If you find you are in the negative, think about why that’s the case. You are allowed to be regretful, but don’t let the feeling linger too long.
Through this challenge, I’m going to show you my own assessment. You can see videos of my own decluttering process at washingtonpost.com. Search for #NoDebtNoMess. And I want you to record your efforts as well. With your permission to post, send your own videos to email@example.com. Keep them less than five minutes.
If I show you my mess, you can show me yours. Together we can try to inspire others to do the same.
Part of the reason we don’t clean up our clutter is because it can be so overwhelming. So we close off rooms and closets because we are embarrassed. I have a lovely home office underneath all the paper on the floor and boxes of books. Every so often, I clean up, only to junk the place again.
I have trouble throwing things away. I keep thinking that I’ll need some piece of paper or that I’ll read that book one day. My tendency toward hoarding is rooted in some deep personal stuff. Abandoned by my mother and father and left to be raised by my maternal grandmother, Big Mama, I hold on to things. It’s the little Michelle in me who can’t let go because she was let go.
The same kind of thing may be happening in your financial life. You don’t talk about the financial chaos you’ve created. And as a result, you don’t get help to fix it because you’re ashamed.
I wanted to use the clutter in your house as an analogy for the disorder you’ve created by not watching your money. You’ve accumulated debt because of your abandonment issues. Or maybe you were abused or poor while growing up. Perhaps you grew up having everything and now you can’t deny yourself anything, even though you don’t have the money.
So this week of the challenge, rather than building a budget or cleaning out your closet, I just want you to assess where you are. Think about how you got here. Why is your house so messy? Why do you have so much debt?
You can’t straighten things up for good until you trace and acknowledge your mess and then create a plan to stay clean. And recognize that it will be an ongoing struggle. But you can do this.
Readers may write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1301 K St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To read previous Color of Money columns, go to wapo.st/michelle-singletary.